Award by Blair Hobbs
The Southern Foodways Alliance this past weekend honored and celebrated women working in every sector of the Southern food world: The symposium program featured lectures about Eugenia Duke, who launched a mayonnaise empire; Patricia Barnes, the Sister Schubert behind a frozen dinner roll line so successful that daily production’s counted in the millions and civil rights fighter Joan Marie Bonton Williams, an ardent collector of cookbooks who pointedly stored her Junior League cookbooks in the bathroom.
Speakers also highlighted the work of the nameless female domestic workers, farmers and restaurant servers who play an integral role in getting Southerners fed. But the highest accolade was reserved for lowcountry champion Vertamae Grosvenor, the Hampton County native who in 1970 captivated readers with her take on instinctual cooking, Vibration Cooking, or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl. The freewheeling memoir-cookbook made a strong impression on a diverse readership, including – according to presenter Tamar Alder – David Bowie and her great friend, Nina Simone.
In awarding the organization’s Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award to Grosvenor, food writer Ronni Lundy said of her classic, “It gave life to and nurtured for many of us a whole new way to come to the table and talk about race. It did so by filling the table with food, and telling that food’s story.” Continue reading
Southern Foodways Alliance
For a fried chicken supper at this past weekend’s Southern Foodways Alliance’s 16th annual symposium, organizers divvied up the most popular parts of the bird amongst cooks representing three of the region’s most iconic skillet-borne chickens. Sarah O’Kelley of The Glass Onion drew thighs.
“(Director) John T (Edge) said ‘you won the chicken lottery’,” recalls O’Kelley, who spent more than six hours in an Oxford, Miss. restaurant kitchen frying up 500 dark meat segments.
For the meal celebrating the program’s theme of “Women at Work,” O’Kelley was invited to prepare fried chicken in homage to Martha Lou Gasden’s rendition of the dish. Her chicken compatriots in the service tent, where symposium-goers clutching illustrated cardboard buckets thronged the tables, were Andre Prince Jeffries of Prince’s Hot Chicken in Nashville and Kerry Seaton-Stewart of Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans.
“I definitely felt a little bit of pressure,” O’Kelley says. “We do a great job with chicken, but we make it once a week. They do chicken all day, every day.” Continue reading
The Southern Foodways Alliance’s annual symposium gets underway tomorrow, if informal dinners around Oxford count. I’ll be there, eating beetroot pachadi, drinking muscadine cocktails and learning about cookbook dowries and Duke’s mayonnaise. The symposium this year is devoted to working women’s stories, and I’m certain attendees of both genders are looking forward to seeing how SFA tackles the topic.
So for the next two days, there won’t be much to read here. But I hope you’ll follow me on Twitter for updates from the event, or – better yet – track #SFA13 for comprehensive coverage.
See you Monday.